PLEASANT HILL -- Dennis Pisila sips a cup of orange juice in the Red Cross blood donation center in Pleasant Hill as he waits for his turn to donate his B-positive blood.

He had heard the news accounts of dwindling supplies due to the cancellation of an estimated 280 blood drives across the United States, resulting from the severe winter storms, and knew his time had come to contribute.

The 73-year-old retired electrical engineer had donated consistently throughout his adulthood, starting with his college days, when a friend needed blood following a motorcycle accident.

Surgery and requisite medication precluded him from giving this past year, but at last he is in the clear.

The Walnut Creek resident was among those who had booked appointments Monday after the local Red Cross had announced the shortage and ensuing increase in the number of Bay Area blood drives.

As of Monday, the Pleasant Hill center had seen a boost of up to 141 percent from its daily goal -- based on prior years of collections -- since launching its plea for help. Fifty-one units were donated Saturday, Jan. 11, according to Jared Schultzman, communications director for Red Cross Northern California Blood Services Region.

Natalie Martin, the charge nurse on Monday, has seen first hand what the statistics are showing, noting donors who have commented that the severe weather conditions and resulting shortage have prompted them to donate.

Donors can give platelets, which is part of the current urgent need, every two weeks, while those donating "whole blood," which includes plasma, platelets and red blood cells, can contribute a pint every two months. Oxygenating red blood cells have a shelf life of 42 days.

Schultzman says type O is needed year-round, regardless of inclement weather, as it can be used to transfuse people of all blood types in an emergency. There is also a demand for A and B-negative, considered as universal, along with platelets that are used often with cancer patients.

Nicole Grimshaw, who was unable to donate because she had her baby with her, made an appointment to return to the center when her husband was available for child care. She knew that her relatively rare A-negative blood would be needed if there were already a call for the more prevalent O-positive.

The Concord resident, 35, has donated blood since participating in a blood drive at Acalanes High School in Lafayette. "Some people are squeamish of needles," she says. "I just look away from it."

Knowing of the current need, Brentwood resident Stephanie Whiting, 29, came to center on her lunch hour to give her O-positive blood, noting that historically it takes only six minutes for "blood into the bag," before she's on her way back to her job at Bank of America in Concord.

"I'm not afraid of needles; the pain doesn't bother me; and I know it's for the greater good," she says.

Platelet donations are all the more imperative, as units have a window of usage of just three days following the two days required to test them.

the gift of life
To donate, call 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or visit www.redcrossblood.org. The American Red Cross Donor Center in Pleasant Hill is at 140 Gregory Lane, Suite 120. Hours are 7:30-10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3:15-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3:15-6:30 p.m. Thursdays; and 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.